Watching Franklin, Tennessee become the new front on the Culture War battleground has left me feeling a little dazed and confused. Having spent close to 90 percent of my life around there, the charm of a place like that comes from the feeling that you are thousands of miles away from the rest of the country and all its problems—nothing ever happens in your home at the end of the world. Now that it’s become a retreat for those in music, entertainment, and politics, Franktown is hot for all the wrong reasons.
Enter Gabrielle Hanson, a high-profile real estate agent with what I like to call strong White Lady Energy running for mayor against a long-time incumbent. Coverage from “mainstream” outlets doesn’t make sense until you spend some time getting acquainted with Hanson.
John Oliver was right to compare her to Trump. Manifesting The Secret, riding the vibe of overconfidence, saying the stupidest things you’ve ever heard, then spinning all of it into a fortune out of thin air, Hanson represents a particular type of person that the surrounding Williamson County area has attracted for nearly twenty years now.
Despite her reckless comments on the Covenant School tragedy and a slew of hit pieces by Phil Williams of NewsChannel 5 calling her a white supremacist, a neo-Nazi sympathizer, a crook, and most recently, a Christian nationalist, she has shrugged off the hit pieces like a true Alpha Stacy.
Her opponent is Ken Moore, who recently cast the tie-breaking vote allowing the controversial Franklin Pride Parade to continue. I’m not exaggerating when I say that virtually no one outside the Mack Hatcher Bypass has ever given a crap about who the mayor of Franklin, Tennessee was. But they do now.
Dr. Moore’s wife is a member of the Crowell family, who have deep, deep ties to Williamson County. Because of that, he’s been able to fly under the radar and get reelected consistently, often with no opponent. But with Hanson riling up a base of support, Mayor Moore is in a position where he must campaign—something he’s never had to do—and contend with a force that he doesn’t fully understand.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Moore was never elected to start with. He served as Vice Mayor before taking office in 2011 when his boss, John Schroer, abruptly resigned. In the intervening 12 years, he’s only faced one challenger.
This year, there are 60,950 registered voters in the city, and turnout tends to be low with only 3,389 (approximately 6 percent ) of voters hitting the ballot box in 2019. At the conclusion of early voting yesterday, 10,000 residents had cast a ballot, accounting for nearly 17 percent of all registered voters.
Hanson has successfully awakened previously dormant parts of the city with a message of change. A statement on her website, entitled The Future of Franklin, reads:
Christians have been arrested on our public space for professing their faith at a Pride festival, and social justice has taken over our Main Street. Now there are Racial Terror Markers coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Corporate welfare is being conducted behind closed doors without the knowledge or consent of your voting body known as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The heart and soul of Franklin is in jeopardy…. Many of you have left everyone and everything to come to Franklin in search of sanity and decency not found in many places anymore. I am running for Mayor of the City of Franklin because I believe those values are worth fighting for.
Dr. Moore, meanwhile, is planting his flag on having “set the tone” for twelve years—which only resonates with his downtown supporters. Hanson’s message is the voice of all the blue state refugees who have migrated to Franklin, the families who moved East to escape the very agenda that, in their opinion, the current administration is either trying to implement or is permissive enough to let happen unchallenged.
HANSON’S PATH TO VICTORY
Despite national media outlets having fun at her expense, a Hanson victory is a very real possibility. Franklin’s social Demographics break into 7 different zones.
Mostly a mixture of old money, B-list celebrities, and washed-up ‘90s musicians, this area is Mayor Moore’s stronghold and, traditionally, the only area of town that actually votes. You’ll see a lot of Pride flags, Coexist bumper stickers, and “In This House” yard signs.
Despite the decades-long work of the county to preserve the town as an important piece of Civil War history, the downtown set seems determined to bury Franklin’s past in favor of transforming it into a franchise outpost for a decaf version of woke culture.
A cluster of newish planned communities containing lots of SEC graduates from all over. I like to refer to this area as Clay Travis Town. Folks here like to tell you what they do and how great they are at it.
This is Hanson’s backyard and her core support base. The fact that she has gotten people from Westhaven to care about anything other than SEC football is a testament to her being a gifted communicator.
This is where all the POCs and Democrats live. Longtime African-American residents and immigrants from Mexico thrive here despite several attempts at gentrification. Also, it’s where you’d find me back in the day posted up outside the Mapco Express for reasons I won’t reveal at this time. Moore will pick up votes here out of spite for Hanson being a right-winger.
Lots of old people up here who don’t really get involved with city issues. It’s a toss-up. Whoever shows up first alphabetically on the ballot will win this group.
South of Highway 96, spanning from Forrest Crossing all the way down to Berry Farms and the new Ramsey corporate park, this area is home to the Christian nationalist, Tradwife, Yogawaffen white ladies. People here are about as based as it gets for Franklin.
This set was very opposed to Covid restrictions and was the first to react when critical race theory crept into the local schools. Their numbers are larger than the downtown crowd. If Gabby wins, this will be the area that carries her.
Smaller population than South Franklin, but with the same amount of soccer moms. This area could make or break a candidate. There are thousands of voters here who have never felt the need to care about the mayor’s race, and for a while, the population wasn’t enough to make a difference. It is now.
Hardly anyone here will vote on anything. Cool Springs is a collection of apartments where transients, H-1B workers, retail, and service industry folk retreat to after toiling away.
The pathway to victory for Hanson is to grab at least 40 percent of West Franklin and Cool Springs while turning out voters en masse in South and East Franklin. On the flipside, Moore needs to win Cool Springs, hold over 60 percent of the older areas, and pray that Phil Williams brings out enough knee-jerk voters to hold off Hanson.
Another factor working in Hanson’s favor is that Franklin’s population is majority female, the vast majority of whom are white upper-class mothers who fit her exact personality profile. When they see her fighting for what she believes in, they see themselves.
When Hanson’s comments regarding the Covenant School tragedy proved insufficient to censure her or remove her from The Board of Mayor and Aldermen, in came the White Knight of Middle Tennessee Democrats, Phil Williams. His slurry of targeted reporting reached its climax when he essentially called Hanson a whore for a criminal conviction for “promoting prostitution” in 1995.
Hanson’s response, published in the Tennessean, recounts a story of being roped unknowingly into a casting couch operation and thrown under the bus by the scumbags behind the enterprise in Dallas, Texas :
I answered the phone and took a name and took a number and a date, and at the end of my work session I would call the owners and give them that information…. I was shocked. I was devastated. Everything I'd worked for for 13 years was about to come true. It should have been the happiest, most exciting time of my life, and it ended up being the absolute lowest. That was definitely not who I was, but I was definitely in the middle of all of it.
The story backfired; instead of tanking her campaign, it rallied women in the Franklin area to her side, many of whom have had similar experiences in the entertainment industry or business world.
WHAT EARLY VOTING SHOWS
Breaking down early voting turnout by precinct, we can see that the older parts of the city—such as Downtown, Liberty Pike, and West Highway 96—turned out about 4,000 votes.
But South Franklin, which leads other parts of the city in early voting totals, signals the visible dissatisfaction many area residents have with the current administration via a rising coalition of support for Hanson.
So far, the most engaged area by far has been West Franklin, the area of town where both candidates currently reside, followed by Downtown/Liberty Pike (favoring Moore), and then South/East Franklin (favoring Hanson).
With the highest number of total registered voters, the wildcard area is Cool Springs. Yet, as I stated before, this area, heavy on apartment-dwelling transient workers, has historically been absent on city issues in general.
This is all very hard to predict, of course, but if you spend enough time driving around town and talking to people you’ll get an idea of the ideological divides, even in a small city like Franklin.
One thing is for certain: this is the most talked about political issue in Franklin since the battle over the Cool Springs Mall in the late ’80s. Expect more inflammatory reports from Phil Williams if Moore is behind at the end of early voting.
Franklin may have become a knock-off Beverly Hills, but the will to throw a good ole fashioned, bloodletting, Southern-style election is still here. And trust me, this one has people acting out. Rumors of business owners being threatened, intimidation from the city, and lively cul-de-sac arguments. It all makes me wish I never left.